I'm so scared to admit this, but I need to come clean.
I'm an imposter.
I had never heard of the term Imposter Syndrome until a month or so ago when I heard another creative entrepreneur talk about it. And then I read into it. And it instantly hit home.
So what do i mean when I say, "I'm an imposter,"? Am I really a fraud? Have I just been faking this career I've been building for over five years?
The simple answer is no. I pay my taxes and I have contracts and insurance and the right gear and the right software. I take classes and continue to learn new things. I even have a bachelor's degree in Photography from one of the best art colleges in the country. I also have worked on all sides of the photography business, between tracking down copyright infringement, working in the publishing world, writing and selling stories to the media, working with celebrities and photographing a book. I have been paid to travel around the world to places like Paris and London to do something I'm aware anyone could do with any camera.
I'm 100% legit.
But even though on paper I'm more than qualified to call myself a professional, some days (ok, most days) I go through a lot of self doubt. I walk into most situations wondering if I'm going to be able to be "on" enough to know how to pose someone. Or make them laugh. Or even take one decent picture.
It's a weird feeling that no matter how many weddings I shoot or how many babies I photograph, I still go into each session questioning if I really, truly know what I'm doing. It's honestly unfathomable to me that anyone trusts me to take a picture.
And yet, somehow they do.
For some reason, once someone starts making their art into a career, we start to compare ourselves to others and wonder,
"Am I really good enough? Or is this just good luck?"
Art is so subjective, even the Mona Lisa gets criticized. So I think it's common for artists to feel like any success is a fluke. One day someone will see through the good luck and right-place-right-timing and reveal the little rosy-cheeked old man behind the curtain who is just pressing buttons to control their giant flaming head puppet.
Because I am constantly second guessing my abilities as an artist, any mistake I make feels like a suffocating shame monster that sits on my chest for months or even years. Mistakes will replay in my mind like the moments before a car accident, where if I had just done one thing differently I could've avoided it.
This way of thinking holds me back from allowing myself to progress and move on.
I recently watched Spielberg on HBO, and I really recommend any creative that feels this way to watch it. Confidence might be overrated. Steven Spielberg feels like he's winging it most of the time he gets to set. He still does his job, figures it out, and has obviously been very successful.
But there is always a part of him before that clapperboard snaps that thinks, can I really pull this off?
There are going to be moments, where you get to set, and you are not going to know what the hell you’re doing. It happens to all of us; you’ve got to guard that secret with your life. Let no one see when you’re unsure of yourself … or you lose the respect of everyone.
—Steven Spielberg quoting his mentor Henry Hathaway
Another notable person who probably has Imposter Syndrome is Gilbert Gottfried. In the incredible documentary Gilbert, he says:
“I don’t know if I ever had a clear vision of what success is going to be, and whatever it is it’s always different, the way things turn out are always different from what you imagine them.”
This voiceover is heard over a clip of Gilbert eating his free continental breakfast by himself at whatever Holiday Inn Express he's staying at on the road. Something he's doing while he continues to work and support his family by being a successful professional comedian.
These documentaries gave me an epiphany:
maybe if I feel like I don't know what the hell i'm doing, I am actually doing it the right way.
This is a little embarassing to admit but since I'm already admitting that I'm a human, I might as well throw this anecdote into this post.
I recently saw a psychic. Honestly, it was just something fun that I wanted to do with my best friend. I went into the reading with zero expectations.
In another documentary on two great artists, Jim and Andy, Jim Carrey mentions that in the early 90's, a psychic predicted that he'd have 3 movies in a row that would make him famous. That same year he made Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber.
So, what did I have to lose, really?
This reading was not for the future. Instead, it was a reading to reveal something that was holding me back from obtaining my dreams. An energy clearing, of sorts. Yeah, I know. It sounds super hippy dippy. But I'm pretty hippy dippy so I was into it.
I didn't tell the psychic anything about myself before the reading, and all I really did was lay there and meditate while she played music and did whatever clairvoyants do to see into your soul.
The crazy thing is, the reading was spot on. She told me exactly what I already knew was my biggest issue: my self doubt.
"All I could see was this fog of self doubt. You are constantly questioning if you are good enough. Know that this isn't true, and you need to get rid of this mindset."
She then encouraged me to do my work for myself, to not worry about what others think of what I make, and success would follow.
Now that I'm aware of my Imposter Syndrome, I'm learning to embrace my self doubt. All the "not knowing," the anxiety, the tendency to focus on my mistakes is probably the reason I'm successfully working as an artist.
Every experience, whether it's good or bad, helps me learn and grow. Every mistake is a, "Well, I guess I'll never do it THAT way again."
Being my own worst critic is the reason I am just the right amount of paranoid to be good at what I do. I've been doing this long enough that, similar to a psychic, I can predict worst case scenarios -- and in some instances, have experienced those worst case scenarios.
My anxiety is actually making me better at my job
I'll probably always feel like some sort of imposter if I base my worth on what someone else thinks. So now, I'm going to focus on making more work for myself. I'm going to embrace my weird ideas and make them. And I'm not really going to care if you like it, or even if you look at it.
That's why I became an artist in the first place, right?